The 2017 ode to Poperinge and Haarlem actually begins in Mechelen.

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It’s a process, but the Baylors are improving at packing light. The objective for one’s baggage is to carry all of it onto the plane, not check items. Upon arrival, you can start moving.

An uneventful arrival in Brussels came early on Friday morning. After clearing passport control and customs, we proceeded to the airport’s underground train station, bought tickets and made the brief 10-minute ride to Mechelen.

Mechelen is located north of Brussels, situated roughly equidistant between the capital and Antwerp. It is an interesting, historic city of 82,000 occupying flat ground astride the Dijle River.

Our room at the St. Martin’s Patershof Hotel, a former church, wouldn’t be ready until 15.00, leaving us more than five hours to wander. Hotel reception placed our bags in a lock-up, and strolled over to the Vismarkt (fish market) in hope of coffee.

The Vismarkt is a small square by the river, where the fishmongers once congregated. One remains in business, but otherwise the storefronts now are filled with bars and restaurants.

One of them is Ronda, a Moroccan restaurant where we enjoyed transcendent tagines and couscous on our previous visit in 2014. History was repeated for lunch in 2017, because by the time we’d finished coffee, the doors were being unlocked at the eatery.

It took a while to finish. There’s an outpost of the Mercure hotel chain just steps away on the Vismarkt. We may have to make it our base of operations next time.

Just across the Dijle from the Vismarkt is an interesting example of adaptive reuse and modern construction, a former brewery (Lamot) transformed into a conference center and offices.

After lunch, it was time to walk off the Couscous Royale. We set northeasterly course for the Grote Markt (main market square).

The striking 320-feet tall cathedral tower of St. Rumbold’s is central Mechelen’s omnipresent landmark.

After another coffee, the walk resumed, this time to the west of center. There was delightful sculpture along the way through residential neighborhoods bordered by the remnants of a vast beguinage.

The reward for this 15-minute hike was being tapped at the Het Anker brewery’s brasserie. As the lunch crowd thinned, we sipped some of my favorite Belgian ales, including Gouden Carolus and Ambrio.

A semi-modern, almost suburban shopping estate is situated across the road from Het Anker. After a couple of belts, we found this toddler supply vendor’s interface a tad amusing.

At this juncture, we could return to the hotel and check in. Once the formalities were finished, a nap was in order.

Literally for decades, I refused to consider the value of such a break on European arrival day. I’d rely on adrenaline and what I imagined was heroic fortitude. Then I got old, and finally I listened to Diana’s patient explanations about the merits of one or two hours of sleep.

By 17.30, we were refreshed and ready to find a dinner spot, prefaced by another enjoyable walk in crisp autumn weather.

Back finally at the Grote Markt, we were enchanted by the scene, and decided to dine somewhere on the perimeter. There was a larger, younger crowd at an Irish pub; most seemed to be drinking, not eating.

However, next to the pub was a restaurant filled with older locals sedately dining and chatting … and a chalkboard sign touting the mussels. Brasserie De Keizerin proved to be an excellent choice with a perfect view.

My plump, fresh mussels were served in a Scotch whisky cream sauce. The first time I ever ate a pot of mussels 22 years ago in Antwerp, the server instructed me to use a shell as a fork. Right or wrong, I’ve done it this way ever since.

The beers were yummy, too. It wasn’t an extensive list, but Dubbels and Tripels work fine with mussels.

As dusk arrived, the views kept getting better. By night, the Grote Markt was rendered positively magical.

Mechelen was the ideal start to the trip. We’ve enjoyed the city so much these past two times that I’d love to spend more than an evening there. Let’s hope this is possible some day soon.

Previously: 

TRAVEL PRELUDES: Mechelen, with a side of Gouden Carolus.

2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 13: A final Belgian evening in Mechelen, with Opsinjoorke.

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